Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Naadam Festival

We declare the 2016 Naadam Festival open!” boomed the loudspeakers. And with that, the fireworks went off, leaving a trail of magenta, teal blue, yellow, and green smoke in their wake. The performances and sporting competitions were set to begin. This announcement kicked off one of the many 2016 Naadam Festivals that will take place across Inner Mongolia this summer. Most of the festivals occur in July and August, but some participants compete in June and even during the winter months. There isn’t one single Naadam Festival, but rather many at all different levels: village, banner, and league. While Naadam is a national holiday in Mongolia, it is also recognized in China.

The word “Naadam” means “three games of men.” The “three games” refer to horse racing, wrestling, and archery. In past competitions, only men were permitted to compete, but today women are allowed to participate in horse racing and archery. Contemporary wrestlers are still male, however. The Naadam Festival has existed for centuries, with its likely origin being sporting competitions that followed weddings and religious events. It is also possible that it has existed since 1220 just after Genghis Khan, who held the festival for the first time, conquered the Khwarezmian Empire, located in modern-day Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Qing Dynasty administrative divisions also hosted the festival in China. Today, thousands of people from all over Inner Mongolia gather at various Naadam Festivals to watch the games as a form of entertainment.

The legacy of Genghis Khan was certainly present during the festival that I attended this summer. During the opening ceremonies, men on horseback in colorful robes of bright blue carried long spears with three curved points, very reminiscent of a trident. “That’s Genghis Khan’s traditional weapon,” Saikhan, my travel companion, told me. He went on to say that it is the “spirit of the Mongolian people.” While driving throughout the grasslands and small towns of the middle of Inner Mongolia, I saw reproductions of the spear everywhere, lending credence to what Saikhan said.

During the time of Genghis Khan, wrestlers were considered heroes and often married the daughters of noblemen. No marriages took place during this festival, but I still had the opportunity to observe the distinction set aside for modern-day “heroes”: colored wreaths that demonstrate how many competitions the wrestler has won. We gathered on the grass in the middle of track in a circle around the competitors. A number of matches occurred simultaneously, and referees stood by each pair of wrestlers to call each one. A wrestler lost when any body part other than the hands or the feet touched the ground. A good strategy, I observed, is to attempt to trip one’s opponent, as that makes for an easy victory.

Immediately to the left of the wrestling competition, the archers set up their targets. Naadam as it was celebrated during the time of Genghis Khan tended to focus primarily on archery. Each archer, in bright blue and purple costumes, drew his bow high into the air while a judge yelled briefly to indicate that the archer is aiming and will let the arrow fly. It can be dangerous to be a spectator, and the judge had to yell for several people to cross behind the target quickly so that no one would be injured. After the archer has released the arrow, several judges examined its landing place to determine the archer’s place in the lineup.

It was difficult to catch a full round of all the events, as a number of them happened at the same time. After Saikhan and I left the archery field, we returned to the track to catch the next lap of the third round of the horse race. I’m able to get right up against the fence and see the horses and their racers up close as they whizzed by. At that point, they were quite close to one another, so no there was no clear winner yet. The winner of the first round was quite an accomplished rider, as according to an announcement, he finished 0.8 kilometers (0.5 miles) ahead of his closest competitor.

Naadam has also seen some modern developments in recent years. Saikhan told me that while Naadam has generally had an additional emphasis on musical performances, the festival is now an opportunity to invite well-known singers and musicians to perform. A throat singer performedthe first female throat singer I had ever seenalong with a group of morin khuur (horse head fiddle) players. In addition, there is a commercial aspect to the festival. Just outside of the stadium, vendors sold everything from Inner Mongolian milk products to grilled seafood to stinky tofu. The products weren't simply Mongolian, but rather represented different parts of China.

The Naadam Festival that I observed in July 2016 was really a mix of old and new. Old sporting events that evoked the memory of Genghis Khan and new performances and food tents similar to modern outdoor fairs anywhere. It was a privilege to experience firsthand a key part of Mongolian culture. 

Allison Quatrini, Ph.D. Political Science 2017
2016 Sigur Center China Summer Research Fellow 

Qianshi Hutong: the World's Narrowest Hutong

Most people who travel to Beijing make sure to see the highlights: the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace. Few sojourners to the Northern Capital, however, experience the nooks and crannies of the city. On the afternoon of June 24th, I went on one such an adventure to one of the most tucked away tourist sites: Qianshi Hutong.

Located off Zhubao Street, which runs perpendicular to Dazhalan Commercial Street in the Qianmen neighborhood, Qianshi Hutong is easy to miss. That’s not surprising, as Qianshi Hutong has the distinction of being the world’s narrowest hutong. I went in search of Qianshi Hutong three times during my both my current and previous tenures in Beijing. The first time, I walked past it entirely and spent a good portion of the afternoon walking up and down Zhubao Avenue, finally returning home in defeat. I was able to locate it several weeks later with a travel companion, and the second pair of eyes was certainly helpful. Today, on my own once again, I walked all the way down Zhubao Street, recalling that the hutong would be on my left, but passing it by nonetheless. Given the increased tourist presence in the area and the market stalls selling silk scarves, cloisonné jewelry, and Old Beijing snacks, Qianshi Hutong has been practically swallowed up.

In Chinese, the name “Qianshi” means “Money Market.” It’s a fitting name, as Qing Dynasty moneychangers would go there to exchange currency. The hutong also boasted 26 mints that produced money for all the banks in Beijing. As it stands today, what is left of the hutong dates back to only the late Qing Dynasty, as a fire during the 1900 Boxer Revolution burnt much of the area to the ground. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the party-state reformed the monetary system entirely, thus rendering Qianshi Hutong obsolete.

Just how narrow is Qianshi Hutong? It’s 55 meters (180 feet) long, but just 70 centimeters (28 inches) at its widest. At one point, the alley narrows down to only 40 centimeters (16 inches). The alley isn’t wide enough for two people to pass by one another. Just this afternoon, I entered the hutong while another person was leaving. I turned to the side and backed up against the wall to allow her to pass—it would have been impossible for either of us to move otherwise. The reason for the extreme narrowness relates to the original purpose of the hutong. Were someone to have robbed the banks, the narrow passage would have made escape difficult, thus making it far more likely for the authorities to successfully apprehend the thief.

As I walked the length of the hutong this afternoon, there’s very little, with the exception of two plaques, that betrayed the alleyway’s original purpose. I glimpsed some faded white stone that might have been part of the façade of one of the mints or moneychanging houses, but it’s so worn that it’s impossible to tell. Rather, the hutong is primarily residential now, with wooden doors leading into small, intimate courtyards and laundry hanging in front of the windows.

The hutong first made its appearance in China during the Yuan Dynasty, a time during which the Mongols ruled. In fact, the origin of the word “hutong” is a Mongolian word meaning “water well.” These alleys used to be the lowest level of administrative division in Beijing. Parts of this Mongolian influence still survive today, although a number of hutongs have been demolished to make way for high-rise apartment buildings. Some of the alleys, including Qianshi Hutong, are protected, thus preserving just a bit of Old Beijing culture and history. 

Allison Quatrini, Ph.D. Political Science 2017
Sigur Center 2016 China Summer Research Fellow 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Organizational Development in Thailand and Myanmar

As I mention in the video above, my name is Oliver Crocco but you can call me Ozzie. I’m a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Human and Organizational Learning (HOL) at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and a recipient of the 2016 Sigur Center Asian Field Research Grant. This blog post is designed to introduce you to my research and share with you my passion for Asian studies and how I came to receive the Sigur Center Field Research Grant.

The Countryside of Mae Sot, Thailand
It was a beautiful fall day in Foggy Bottom when I found myself at the Paul Coffee shop on Pennsylvania Avenue up the street from the Elliot Schoolfor International Affairs. I sat across Dr. Christina Fink, Professor of Practice at the Elliot School and someone with whom I share many mutual friends from my time in Southeast Asia. In fact, one of the reasons I was keen to join GW two years ago to begin my doctoral work was hearing about Dr. Fink from Martha and John Butt, colleagues and friends from my four years spent at PayapUniversity (PYU) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Sipping on coffee and discussing Myanmar politics, I told Dr. Fink about a project I was involved in at PYU where we developed a Certificate Program in Organizational Development along with the International RescueCommittee (IRC) and offered it to hundreds of Community-Based Organization (CBO) workers along the Thai-Myanmar border and at various locations in rural Myanmar. The certificate offered knowledge and skills regarding organizational development, accounting, finance, grant writing, and human resource management to name a few. It also included general education courses on politics, economics, and cross-cultural communication. I told her about my curiosity to discover if this program was actually leading to positive organizational change and how, if at all, the program was supporting those organizations in making an impact in their communities.

Over the weekend I went running at a national park
As many of my readers may know, after the violent crackdown of pro-democracy protests by the ruling military junta in Myanmar in 1988, most universities were either closed or handed over to be run by the military (Fink, 2009). This led to an exodus, with many people fleeing to places like Mae Sot along the Thai-Myanmar border. To respond to humanitarian and educational needs along the border and in ethnic minority states, many CBOs were created, including hospitals, schools, and agricultural organizations (Fink, 2015). While some is known about educational training programs at CBOs in Myanmar such as in health (Low, Tun, Mhote, Htoo, Maung, Kyaw, & Pocock, 2014) and agriculture (Matsuno, Horino, & Hatcho, 2013), little is known about how organizational development programs, like the PYU-IRC certificate course, contribute to organizational change within CBOs and are perceived by their beneficiaries. I was curious to know how the certificate course was (or wasn’t) affecting those organizations and communities.

It was that day at the coffee shop that Dr. Fink told me about the Sigur Center Asian Field Research grant and recommended that I apply. I was overjoyed to hear about the opportunity and worked with Dr. Fink along with my adviser in the HOL department, Dr. Maria Cseh, and another GW professor, Dr. Nisha Manikoth, to craft a research proposal. I decided on case study research methodology and am doing a multiple case study of four leaders of four different organizations – two in Mae Sot and two in Myanmar.

This organizational leader led me on his bike to his office
The overall purpose of this study is to see how organizational development in community-based organizations creates a lasting impact in communities in Myanmar. Thus, the research questions ask the following: How do leaders of four organizations use what was taught in the Organizational Development Certificate Program to serve the purposes of their CBOs and communities? How do the participants in the certificate program perceive the usefulness of the program for their work and lives? And lastly, how, if at all, has the certificate program contributed in any noticeable way to organizational change within these CBOs? 

After lots of preparation, I received IRB approval for the study and arrived in Thailand early July. Today, nearly 9 months later, I am in another coffee shop reflecting on the first part of my Asian field research. Here are a few highlights and challenges so far:

Challenge 1: Getting organized.
So far this research has been quite the learning experience in cross-cultural planning. Leading up to the project and now here in Thailand I've been organizing with the various individuals and organizations to create a schedule that works for everyone for me to interview and make observations. This has meant a lot of emails, meeting people, and discussing the best times and places to meet. Thankfully, everyone has been very helpful and I’m grateful for everyone’s time and patience.

Highlight 1: Friendly people.
I am amazed at how friendly, compassionate, and kind the people of the organizations I have met are. They have warmly welcomed me into their work and lives and have shared with me their experiences in ways that have humbled me. One woman was willing to meet with me even though she had just worked all day, went to a training for three hours, and had homework for her online degree due that evening. I am full of gratitude!

I made it on the calendar of this organization!
Challenge 2: The dogs.
While not directly related to my study, I love to run in my free time. However, I’ve found it terribly challenging to find places to run (at least run long distances) because of the dogs... Most of the streets and alleys have faithful watchdogs there to protect their territory from tall, strange-looking, and colorfully-dressed people like me. I’ve been carrying my selfie-stick around with me on my runs. It’s light and I can quickly expand it to ward away any dogs looking especially offensive.

Highlight 2: Deep sharing.
Conduct high quality case study research relies on a good research design, interview protocol, and participation criteria. It also relies on participants who are willing to reflect deeply on their experiences, feelings, and beliefs. I have been humbled and amazed to find this in my first few weeks here in Mae Sot. I am so thankful to the participants willing to share deeply and hope I can listen as passionately as they are sharing.

I’m off to Myanmar on Friday but will post again in about a month at the end of my research! If you have any questions, comments, thoughts, or would just like to get in touch, please email me at You can also check out my personal blog here. 

All the best,

Oliver (Ozzie) Crocco
Doctoral student in Human and Organizational Learning, GSEHD
Sigur Center 2016 Asian Field Research Fellow
Thailand and Myanmar 

Fink, C. (2015). Burmese sanctuary-seekers and migrants in Thailand: Policies, experiences, and prospects,” in A. Kathleen and N. Murakami, (eds.) in Trauma and Recovery on War’s Border: A Guide for Global Health Workers. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press.
Fink, C. (2009). Living silence in Burma: Surviving under military rule (2nd ed.). Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books. 
Low, S., Tun, K. T., Mhote, N. P. P., Htoo, S. N., Maung, C., Kyaw, S. W., & Pocock, N. S. (2014). Human resources for health: Task shifting to promote basic health service delivery among internally displaced people in ethnic health program service areas in eastern Burma/Myanmar. Global Health Action, 7, 24937-10. doi:10.3402/gha.v7.24937
Matsuno, Y., Horino, H., & Hatcho, N. (2013). On-farm irrigation development and management in lower Myanmar: Factors for sustainable rice production and collective action. Paddy and Water Environment, 11(1), 455-462. doi:10.1007/s10333-012-0336-0

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Flavor of Seoul-Hoyer- SNU- Summer Language Grant

Greetings from Seoul!

            For my second blog, I have created a video of some of my gustatory adventures in Korea. My initial blog idea was to make a longer video of different traditional Korean foods with a part on traditional summer foods.  However, while making the video, I decided to make it shorter so that the viewers did not have to stare at head shots of me speaking for multiple songs.  In the video, I focus on some of the Korean foods I had the pleasure of tasting during a day trip to Gwangjang Market with friends.
            Foods which did not make the cut were filmed on different days than my market trip.  One food which I originally filmed was Samgyetang.  Samgyetang is a Korean ginseng chicken soup which contains a whole, rice-stuffed baby chicken inside broth.  It is a Korean tradition to eat it on the hottest day of summer, July 23.  There is a Korean idiom which states, “fight fire with fire.”  It refers to the practice by Koreans of eating hot foods on hot summer days due to the belief that it is good for the body to consume hot foods to contrast the cold foods normally eaten during hot summer days which can hurt the body.  It is particularly eaten on three summer days as marked by the lunar calendar: the first, middle, and last day of summer.
            To contrast Samgyetang, I also wanted to mention Naengmyeon, iced Korean noodles.  The wheat noodles are often very long and require cutting with scissors, normally provided by the restaurant.  They are served in a cold, sweet broth with egg and vegetables along with shaved ice to keep the dish refreshing.
            Another summer refreshing treat includes Bingsu, a Korean frozen dessert composed of shaved ice, red bean paste, ice cream, and other flavored toppings according to the individual’s taste, such as green tea and cookies and cream.  The original version of this shaved ice treat was Patbingsu, which only contained red bean paste with shaved ice and no additional flavors.

Verónica María Hoyer, B.A., International Affairs 2017,
Sigur Center 2016 Korean Language Fellow,
Seoul National University, South Korea.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Nature, nurture, and new things at NTU

大家好! My name is Anna Du and I am an undergraduate student in the Elliott School majoring in International Affairs and Chinese, currently in Taipei, Taiwan studying Chinese with NTU’s ICLP program as a Sigur Center summer language fellow. I am forever grateful to the Sigur Center for making everything I will learn and experience during this summer possible! As of now I am at home enjoying a “typhoon day” while rain from super typhoon Nepartak beats against the door. These past two days I’d step out the door and feel a noticeable difference from the normal humidity that feels like another layer of clothing, along with clearer skies. One of my teachers at ICLP has explained “the calm before the storm” occurs because the typhoon sucks in all the bad weather as it progresses, growing bigger and nastier…. thus the more beautiful the weather before the typhoon, the worse the typhoon will be when it hits. Those of us in the northern portion of Taiwan are more fortunate than those in the South, which is bearing the brunt of the typhoon.  
A typhoon-ready bathroom. If you live in an apartment, it is advised you fill a vessel with water to flush toilets in case of a power outage.

Aside from natural phenomena, I’d like to talk about another interesting phenomenon I’ve experienced while living and getting around Taipei, . Sometimes it feels like I haven’t left America, as some days will be spent saturated in English rather than in Chinese. I could spend a day finding my way around Taipei by reading the English on the road signs or on the MRT, eat at restaurants that have menus in English and play American music, and use Facebook like I normally would.

So easy to just read the clever English entree names in lieu of the Chinese below...
People can get by in foreigner friendly Taipei without trying to learn Chinese, and it makes me realize that I still need to study very hard to improve my Chinese-- just being in a foreign country does not mean that your language skills will improve without any effort on your part-- daily study is essential and it takes up a good portion of the day. ICLP is very intensive, in that you have the same four classes a day, three classes with 3-4 students and one one-on-one, Monday-Friday. ICLP and my teachers are wonderful enough to accommodate with teaching materials in simplified in additional to traditional, however being the only student in my classes reading in simplified, I feel as if sometimes I’m at a handicap. Here at 臺大 I have the opportunity to learn a bit of Taiwanese, which is classified under the Minnan dialect, in an elective class. As one of the many Chinese dialects (方言) mutually unintelligible from Mandarin, Taiwanese is related to Mandarin just about as much as French is related to Spanish. However the writing system is the same, utilizing Chinese characters (方块字), although some different vocabulary usage has corresponding different characters. If you ever thought the four tones of Mandarin were difficult to grasp, try the seven tones of Taiwanese. You can find recordings of Taiwanese with with transcriptions including Mandarin and English here.

Language isn’t the only thing we can learn from Taiwan. What that has struck me most in Taipei while I’ve been nurturing my Chinese skills is the remarkable kindness and good-naturedness of the Taiwanese people. When I first arrived in the middle of the night and couldn’t find the house I was staying at in the confusing alleys, people asked me if I needed help and pointed me in the right direction. When bumping into someone on the road, people will politely apologize. When one of the 阿姨s, cleaning ladies, saw me scratch at my mosquito-bite ridden legs, she immediately gave me some cooling gel to get rid of the itchiness. Many days later, she asked me if my legs were all better.

In addition to the people of Taipei, I must also rave about the transportation system in Taipei. The MRT, Taipei’s metro rail system, is quick, cheap, and I daresay safer than other metro rail systems I’ve used (at most stations there’s a barrier between the platform and the track to prevent anyone from falling onto the track). The YouBike system, which I use to get to and from class every day, is relatively dependable and cheap too. You use your EasyCard to use the MRT, take the bus, and rent YouBikes. I’ve used public transportation to get to many of our 活动 excursions on Saturdays:
Dragon Boat Racing
Half-baked tea leaves at 貓空 (Maokong) and a special tea mug on the bottom right corner designed to make tea culture much easier to experience. 

A lovely Buddhist temple in Sanxia Old Town

To everyone who may be in the path of typhoon Nepartak-- stay safe.

Until next time,

Anna Du
B.A. International Affairs and Chinese, 2018
Sigur Center 2016 Chinese Language Fellow
National Taiwan University, Taiwan